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Spotlight on Chad

Class for displaced children in Chad. (JRS)
Thursday, October 30, 2008

Adapted from an article by Rodrigue Naortangar, SJ, JRS Chad & Ashley Gagné, JRS West Africa

October 30, 2008

Jesuit Refugee Service uses education in efforts to support conflict resolution and to build a culture of peace in Chad.

This rainy season, the traveler flying over eastern Chad is struck by admiration of the rolling green mountains watered by the wadi running into the valleys. One can hardly imagine this countryside during the dry season: inhospitable and arid. Even more difficult is imagining this landscape as the stage of a tragedy. Yet across this landscape plays out a drama resulting from the neighboring Darfur crisis, internal rebellions, interethnic conflicts, and armed banditry.

First, the effects of the Darfur crisis.  Janjaweed incursions in the Chadian territory are a reality. These raiders were sighted not long ago in the mountains surrounding Goz Béida, a city in eastern Chad about 150 km from the Sudanese border. They cross the porous boundary line to chase their victims, not only Darfurian refugees, but also Chadians living near Sudan who have the 'misfortune' of belonging to Darfurian ethnic groups.

The Janjaweed wish to prolong the nightmare: torching villages, massacring and hunting the survivors off their land. Thus the Darfur crisis, deeply rooted in intertribal conflicts, land disputes, and political and economic instability, is drawn out over ever greater time and space.

There are also armed rebellions. Chadian rebel movements have riddled the East since the first years of independence, using this region and western Darfur as a base. These days, rebel groups, sometimes united, sometimes divided, carry on the tradition. On April 13th, 2006, the United Front for Democratic Change (FUC), made a grand but fruitless incursion on the Chadian capital.

Since then, the United Force for Democracy and Development (UFDD) and the Rally of Democratic Forces (RFC) have seriously threatened Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno’s power. United in the "National Alliance," they came within a hair's breadth of toppling his regime last February.

The Chadian government accuses Sudan of backing all these rebel movements. In turn, Sudan accuses Chad of supporting the rebels in Darfur, in particular the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) led by Doctor Khalil Ibrahim, who is of Zaghawa ethnicity like the Chadian president. Chadian rebels frequently enter cities taking food and fuel, and recruiting members to their cause. Many of the region's youth have joined them.

Eastern Chad increasingly resembles a mosaic of antagonistic ethnic groups, with rivalries that can use any excuse to dissolve into a bloody tangle.  Take, for example, clashes between the Mouro and the Dadjo tribes in the city of Kerfi this July, fueled by accusations that the latter was snatching up the jobs that humanitarian nongovernmental organizations bring to the region.

Lastly, there is armed banditry, aimed principally at humanitarian organizations working in the region. Individuals operating in a military manner regularly rob humanitarian compounds, taking money, computers, and vehicles. Bandits, known as "road cutters," also find eastern Chad a favorable ground for crime, as our staff found out while travelling in a JRS car last June. 

The National Chadian Police, the United Nations and the European Union mission are all struggling to secure refugee camps, IDP sites, and humanitarian aid zones. Overall, the interrelated conflicts in Darfur and Chad have displaced 185,000 people within Chad and brought about 250,000 Sudanese refugees into the country. Keeping some semblance of order amidst such vast displacement is an enormous task.

What solution to this chaotic situation can be envisaged? How can an organization like Jesuit Refugee Service contribute to bringing peace and tolerance to this strife torn land?

First, we believe that peace and security must come before all else, and that this can only be accomplished through the application of real political will. For now, this seems to be lacking on the local level. This is why the international community must invest in a political solution to the problem.

The roles of the  European and U.N. missions EUFOR and MINURCAT should be clearly redefined with forces securing not only refugee and IDP sites, but territory throughout eastern Chad, so that displaced persons can return to their places of origin.  JRS seeks to contribute to this process by joining with other humanitarian organizations to advocate on an international level for intensified efforts by governments and the United Nations to resolve the conflict.

On a local level, working in the heart of the region, JRS tries to promote peace and security in local villages. Working through its education programs, JRS seeks to encourage a lasting culture of peace. To do this, JRS facilitates dialogue between local authorities and nomadic tribes in order to resolve disputes that affect our students and their communities. Those we work with have demonstrated a willingness to find constructive solutions, confirming our belief in the capacity of Chadians to live together desp